Changing Planet

Night Sky News: Watch Bits of Halley’s Comet Fall

If you have clear skies early this Thursday night through Friday morning, watch for a minor meteor shower with a famous pedigree.

Known as the Eta Aquarids, this annual shooting-star show is set to peak in the predawn hours of May 6, with rates of 10 to 40 meteors an hour.  While not a spectacular show like its August cousin, the Perseids, the cool factor for sky-watchers is that all those modest meteors are bits of debris from Halley’s Comet.

Each spring Earth passes through leftover bits and pieces shed by the famous icy visitor. Coming through the inner solar system every 76 years, Halley melts a bit from the heat of the sun and sheds some pounds as gas, dust, and rocks break off.

After countless trips around the sun, large clouds of mostly sand grain-size particles have ended up scattered all along Halley’s orbit. The flurry of shooting stars you see during the shower occurs as each of those particles slams into the upper atmosphere at over 100,000 miles (161,000 kilometers) an hour, causing the atmosphere to ionize in a fraction of a second.

While you can start watching for a slight uptick in shooting star numbers on late Thursday night, you will have to set your alarm for early morning Friday if you want to catch the best part of the show.

Illustration courtesy Starry Night Software

Between 3 a.m. and local dawn you will see the peak rates. That’s because all the meteor streaks will appear to radiate out from the shower’s namesake constellation Aquarius, which rises in the southeast in the predawn hours this time of the year.

Night owls in the Northern Hemisphere are favored for this celestial fireworks show, and astronomers say the closer you are to the Equator, the higher the chance for more meteors.

The new moon earlier in the week will ensure that the skies will be perfectly dark for the shower. But no matter where you are, the best way to enjoy the Eta Aquarids is to get to a dark location away from cities and get comfortable on a reclining lawn chair—with lots of blankets and coffee.

Forget binoculars and telescopes, as this cosmic show encompasses most of the overhead sky, so your eyes are the best because they can soak in the biggest chuck of night sky possible.

While Halley’s Comet itself won’t be returning until 2061, you won’t have to wait until then to at least see bits and pieces of the iconic comet streak across the heavens.

BTW, if you have never looked at the rings of Saturn or seen a distant star cluster through a telescope, then May 7 is your best bet to do just that.

This Saturday marks International Astronomy Day, when local astronomy clubs, planetariums, and observatories will conduct beginner stargazing workshops and set up telescopes for the general public to view the wonders of the universe.

Find out what stargazing events are happening in your neck of the woods in the United States on the Astronomy League website, and see what’s going on north of the border on the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s website.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Mohammed Abul-huda

    Is it visible here in the middle east ??? cause I really want to watch such thing !!!

  • tsvenza

    Can i see the comet here in zimbabwe. Ive never seen such and it would be my best night ever

    • Yes, the meteor shower is visible from southern Africa but it will be a muted show with lesser number of shooting stars visible -still worth a look though!
      Remember it’s not Comet Halley itself we are seeing during the meteor shower but the particles that have melted off the the comet nucleus. Each shooting star is a sand-grain sized particle that broke off comet Halley probably many centuries ago.

  • […] For more information about the shower, plus a picture to help you find its location, check out this great article by the National Geographic Society:  http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/05/night-sky-news-watch-bits-of-halleys-comet-fall/ […]

  • ruben samaro

    could i see it here in northern california?? if soo where should i go to see it perfectly?

    • Best way to see the shower is outside of city limits from the dark countryside , but if you can’t get away then you will still see the brighter meteors – maybe 5 to 10 per hour in the pre-dawn hours of Friday . There will still be some of the shower visible after the peak – so might be worth looking up on Friday night too.

  • Müller

    Can we brazillians can see this meteor shower??

  • antonio perez

    Se verá en cielo venezolano? Para estar pendiente

  • maldito

    is there a specific country where you can see this comet?

    • With this sky event it’s not Halley’s comet we are seeing but the leftover material shed by it that appears in the skies above as shooting stars. We will have to wait until 2061 to see Halley’s again.

  • Florence Jaudon

    Once again the event is all over by the time you tell us about it.
    I wish you could post a12 hours earlier for us in Australia.

  • adriana

    I wonder if can i see it here in mexico?

  • Homero Salazar

    Is it gonna be visible in Mexico?

    • Yes, actually Mexico should see a better performance than the US or Canada tonight. The trick is to get to a dark location away from light pollution. don’t forget Friday night will see some meteor activity as well.

  • fred

    here in philippines what time will it be seen? tnx..

    • Best time to view is between midnight and 4 am local time may 6 and 7.

  • Miguel Rios

    How about in Venezuela??? Can I see them here??

  • Johnny Molina

    I live in Ecuador in the Andes mountains could see the meteor shower?

  • Izrul

    hey,is it visible from Malaysia?i couldn’t get a precise time of the occasion.is it Saturday night of US timeline?

    • Aquarid meteor shower is visible around the world with best viewing locations being centered around the equator where the highest rates of shooting stars will be visible. But do keep in mind this is a very modest shower with the cool factor being that each métier you see is originating from Halley’s Comet.

  • Dacy

    Is it visible in far east countries? thanks!

  • Irénke Csókásné

    It shows that Hungary can not be seen in the phenomenon?

  • Irénke Csókásné

    Kedves András!
    Elnézést, de a megszólítás lemaradt!:)
    Üdvözet!
    Irénke

  • Sue

    What is the best time Pacific time to look for the comet – where are you located I can’t find anything on the Internet regarding when in Pacific, Central, and Eastern time is the best.

  • Lorna

    Hi,

    Im in the Philippines, what time can I view it in Manila.

    Thanks.

  • […] Imagem da National Geographic: […]

  • Unkwn

    Will i be able to see from india ?

  • arfeen zaidi

    Can i see the comet here in Pakistan. Ive never seen such and it would be my best night for ever

  • Rishutosh Sharma

    I watched many many amazing things in the Sky…………..any one not believe it’s simply……………

  • JONALDO C. RIVERA

    “MAJESTIC”

  • sue gleave

    I know its past now but what would have been the time to `look up` from here in good old Blightey??

  • abdelrahman

    very nice pic what’s the best cam can some one bought

  • pramod jirapure

    thanks yesterday night we have wonderful experience @3.00am to 5.30 am beautiful showering experience with rates of 10 to 20 meteors an hour.

  • Mariana Miguel

    Can i sse from portugal?

  • Isman Punggul

    I so want to see, unfortunately in the eastern hemisphere can not seem

  • Zulfikar Ali Ando

    how about effect to our live in the future?…

  • Jelena

    I am from Belgrade is it going to be tonight something I did`t know about last night.

  • Brenda Cordoba

    thank nat geo

  • Juvy Love

    hmm….since i didn’t seen this comet last May 6…I’ll have to wait for another 76 years to see this comet again…so sad.. 🙁

  • tameika bailey

    at 10:19 pm i was sitting on the porch when i saw the halleys comet it seem like for 10 or 15 seconds i was so excited an i have not heard them mention anything on the news yet its been 24 hours i wonder why

  • HELLLOOO

    Wow my birthday after and adeles bitrhday on that day so must be our brthday gift lolz !!!

  • […] Fotos|1.2.3,4 […]

  • Andrea Okleshen

    I saw Hailey’s comet in the sky about 8:30 I believe!!! or it was a fragment, beautiful long tail just below Venus, never seen anything like it in my life!!!

  • cd duplication sydney

    Wonderful beat ! I wish to apprentice at the same time as you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a weblog website? The account helped me a applicable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided shiny transparent idea

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